CAUTION! Fragile. Irish Glass: Tradition in Transition

defend honor attackHer 2010 Visiting Artist residency at Museum of Glass became the catalyst for Irish glass artist Róisín de Buitléar to develop CAUTION! Fragile. Irish Glass: Tradition in Transition. In a personal and profoundly inspirational exhibition and unlike anything previously explored at an American museum, this exhibition takes a deep look at the Irish glass industry and the impact of recent factory closures on artists, tradition and personal identity.

Since her residency in the summer of 2010, de Buitléar has embarked on a journey to explore the lives of Irish crystal glass Master Craftsmen formerly employed at the Waterford factory. A collaboration with three of the best masters: Fred Curtis, Eamonn Hartley and Greg Sullivan, has resulted in an exhibition of work celebrating their skills in glass cutting and engraving. Many of the pieces in the exhibition were made at Museum of Glass and shipped to Ireland to be cut and engraved.

For centuries the Irish have been regarded as supreme artists in crystal glass, particularly in the techniques of cutting and engraving. Apprentices, under the guidance of Master Craftsmen, began working as teenagers to learn the intricacies of the art of working with crystal and these skills have been handed down over generations and have helped to support families and communities providing much needed employment. Now, however, crystal glass manufacturing in Ireland is hanging by a thread. The famous Waterford factory, which served for decades as a symbol of Irish artistic heritage, closed in 2009 and other famous glass factories in Cavan, Galway, and Tyrone have closed, selling off equipment and putting hundreds of glassmakers out of work. Once known worldwide as the best and finest, Irish crystal glass manufacturing has faced impossible challenges partly due to economic shifts which were beyond the control of the thousands of families intertwined in the decline of the industry.

According to de Buitléar, “Glassmaking represents a distinct cultural identity in Ireland. It was a way of life for thousands of Irish skilled workers. Each glass factory closure is taking with it intangible qualities of a community’s capabilities: its potentialities, cultural distinctiveness and social relationships.”

“The global economic crisis effected people across the world in different ways. For artists and art institutions this has been a period of unparalleled struggle as the focus on basic life essentials has often overlooked the impact of the arts on community building and economic development. We are honored to have the opportunity to share the stories, hopes and dreams of the artists have developed this exhibition. It is truly a turning point for these craftsmen and a point of departure for a new phase of work and artistic exploration,” states Susan Warner, director at Museum of Glass.

CAUTION! Fragile. Irish Glass: Tradition in Transition draws on the cultural identity of Ireland through a series of figurative pieces; they include monastic bells, swords and spears, discs and drums. Theses iconic objects infused with cultural resonance create simple ideas of archaic atmosphere, and represents changes currently occurring in the Irish crystal glass industry. Focusing on the themes of history, landscape and sound, Museum visitors will have a completely immersive experience including photography, oral histories and soulful collaborative work. In addition, all of the exhibition’s artists will have residencies at the Museum of Glass and visitors will have an opportunity to see these artists bring their skills and creativity to the Hot Shop floor.

Image credit:
Róisín de Buitléar (Irish, born 1963) and Fred Curtis (Irish, born 1955); Honor Defend Attack!, 2013; Blown glass, cut; Three objects, each approximately 10 x 3 1/2 x 2 in.; Courtesy of the artists.

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